The Music Blog: Heeeeey Kool-Aid

From a purely writing perspective I am actually pretty organized. My first two writing projects were novels and that took a lot of organization and structure. You might not think that about me as in so many ways I am so unorganized. Most things I write are all organized in my head. I spend a lot of time working it out in my head and then when I think or believe I have the right of it I let it fly, take wing and give it freedom to evolve like a child in some ways. I don’t know if other writers do things this way but I do.
So this blog posting will start with a brief, if you can say that about me, historical timeline that some of you might know, and for some it might be new information. Most of this is just coming from my memory of things and I may have a few dates criss crossed a bit but mostly this is correct.

Between 1960 through 1962 Timothy Leary ran a well known study of the effects of psychedelic drugs on the mind. Now I don’t need to dive deeply into this study and get into what he was or was not trying to accomplish or hoping to find. This is only important because one of his test subjects in California was Ken Kesey.

Now you may or may not know who Ken Kesey was. He did a lot of things but let’s begin that after exploring creative writing Kesey wrote the novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest which was published in 1962 giving him both wealth and some name recognition.

By this time Kesey was a big believer in the positive effects of LSD and in marijuana. He bought a large isolated ranch in the hills and began to attract a following of people who journeyed there to experience LSD which was not illegal and be turned on. Many of these followers became the core group for the Merry Pranksters a group of hippies who maybe formed the first hippie commune and went on to participate in the organization of everything counter culture including Woodstock.

In 1964 the Pranksters and Kesey decided to take their act on the road and hold parties across the country. Kesey bought an old International Harvester school bus which was painted psychedelic and named Further. Along with a few select Pranksters took off on a cross country tour of the USA in the hopes of turning the entire country on to LSD. The driver of the bus was legendary beatnik/hippie Neal Cassady who did not actually take LSD but was a speed freak. They never actually made it across the country they ran out of acid first and went back to California where they had a new idea.

In 1964 the Pranksters began renting large concert halls and coliseums to hold acid tests. Essentially an acid test was a giant LSD party. There were usually two trashcans full of kool-aid one with acid thus making it electric and the other with none although occasionally they laced both of them. The Pranksters would ensure that bad trips were dealt with kindly and provided music to enhance the experience. The first band they used was Country Joe and the Fish although the Pranksters said that one night collectively the crowd froze the band in mid song and that was it and they were replaced with a band called the Warlocks.

In 1968 journalist Tom Wolfe published an account of this famous cross country trip, the acid tests, the pranksters and the 1965 arrest of Kesey on Marijuana charges.

In 1981 a young voracious reader entered the University of Texas at Arlington and fell in love with 5 floors of books and used his access freely and somewhere in 1983 or 1984 discovered Tom Wolfe’s book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

The warlocks who participated and provided the music for those tests went on to change their name to the Grateful Dead. Now as far as I know there are only two bands that have gone from bands I despise to bands I love; the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Grateful Dead. Nowadays I would never evaluate a band the way I did the Dead. First there was the name and I guess part of my disapproving parents came through but I was seriously concerned with the name of their band. I know it’s laughable but there you have it. Before you think my parents were some sort of prudes they were not, they just didn’t understand or like the same music I did and they were concerned about the effects this music might have on me, you know parental stuff. Now my other reason for hating the Dead was a little more practical, I knew one song. Casey Jones was the only Grateful Dead song I ever heard and I absolutely to this day seriously dislike this song. That song though did two things it reinforced my belief that they were just a drug band and that their music would be some sort of shock rock.

I gave the Grateful Dead a chance after Tom Wolfe’s book. It wasn’t run to the store and buy every album or even any album. I found someone who liked the band and had music and I listened with a few beers and a lot of laughter and a funny thing happened. Well Cold Rain and Snow happened and to this day it’s one of my five most favorite Grateful Dead songs. Then Morning Dew, and New Minglewood Blues all from the first album. My goodness what music I had been missing and it was so far from what I expected. I just sat there in wonder, and maybe slight drunkenness like any good Samurai. I was in love and this time it wasn’t with the girl although she was pretty awesome. There were other songs too Scarlet Begonias and China Cat Sunflower and on and on. There was no doubt though which Grateful Dead albums I would start with though. About a week after this I bought the two back to back masterpieces of American Beauty and Working Man’s Dead. So even though these two albums brought me the two worst Dead songs ever the aforementioned Casey Jones and Truckin’ they also brought me Box of Rain, Friend of the Devil, Till the Morning Comes, Cumberland Blues, Uncle John’s band my very favorite Dead song and Dire Wolf. Just like that they were a band I loved. I had gotten it all so wrong. They were wonderful musicians with wonderful melodies and songs. They were not a heavy band not a shock rock band and while some of their songs had wonderful psychedelic titles the songs themselves were oh so good. Of all the bands I listen to, have ever listened to I cannot name another band that I feel so lucky to have found. Garcia loved acoustic instrumentation and loved the sounds of Americana namely Bluegrass. He was a great banjo player and all of this love is incorporated throughout his music and that of the Dead.
So if there is a lesson to be learned and it would actually take me just a few more years and one more amazing band to learn that lesson is that you have to be a little careful judging bands or artists based on their name or a small sample of songs. Unless its Zappa let me save you the trouble you can listen to his entire catalogue of music and he will still suck.

Mike out